5 Pedals or Less: How to sound like Sonic Youth
Its funny what being branded a loser in high school has done for some of the most iconic Alt music in the game today, and the same can be said for pretty music all awkwardly cool music in existence too.
You don’t belong, you form a band because you think ‘hey they already hate me anyway so what’s the worst that can happen?’ and then you go on to write music that connects with every other person who felt like they didn’t belong too and become a superstar.
Now I don’t know for sure that the guys in Sonic Youth were branded losers in high school. Nor do I know basically anything about them other than their music. But hey, sometimes you just get a feeling.
What I do know is how to use pedals to sound like them. And fortunately that’s all I’m getting paid to do so I’m just gonna shut up and get on with it.
Before I get into pedals though, I need to mention some pre pedal gear you’ll need to do this right:
- Some kind of Fender amp. Ideally a Princeton, but anything with that classic jangle sound will do.
- A guitar with fender voiced Humbuckers, and if you can make it something Alt-y like a Jazzmaster so you look like a kool dude
Pedal 1: Boss CH-1 Super Chorus (£70)
Starting from the cleans and working up here. Sonic Youth like nearly every Alt band ever really liked using chorus, and why not? It sounds dope and when used properly doesn’t have to be a cheesy 80’s vibe (although I love that vibe so don’t you dare say bad word about it so help me god).
Thing is, in order to get the right chorus sound you need it to be on the budget side of the price point scale, but with enough sculpt-ability to get the right sound. Boom. CH-1. I’ve said it before I don’t wanna say it again, just buy it. Don’t be stupid.
Pedal 2: BOSS 59’ Bassman Pedal (£79-£114)
Ok, so couple things you need to consider when looking at the Sonic Youth drive sound. They tended to crank old amps to get a natural drive sound, then have another guitar with some kind of fuzz on it to get this marriage of old and new style gain. I don’t recommend cranking your fender amp up for gain, because like them, you’ll go deaf. What you can do however is buy pedals that recreate amp style gain like the BOSS 59’.
I chose this one purely because it’s the only one I’ve owned in this style of pedal and it works great. They’re quite hard to buy new these days but there are tons on Ebay. I know that’s a pain for some people but its not that hard to pick one up and all the other pedals coming out that do this type of thing either suck or cost £200 so you do the math.
Pedal 3: EHX Op-Amp Muff (£75)
Finishing off the drive section with, of course, a fuzz. Sonic Youth would sound a whole lot less angst-y without some good ole fuzz. Virtually every Alt band of note used the Op- Amp big muff in the 90’s (Smashing Pumpkins being the most noted) because of its stupidly high gain wall of fuzz sound. This reissue does a near perfect job and its small and £75. Sometimes it’s best to know a good thing when you see it and not mess with it.
Pedal 4: Way Huge Echo-Puss (£140)
Nearly there now. The flip side of Sonic Youth’s massive guitar sounds is their more delicate, almost ambient instrumentals that are scattered across their discography. So in order to do that you’ll need a delay, and ideally an analogue one.
I feel like the Echo-Puss always gets overlooked in the conversation of best analogue delays. To say that it’s a semi clone of the Memory man and the deluxe reissue by EHX costs £190 to its £140 (and sounds better IMO) it baffles me so few know or use it. But anyway I’m getting off the point, it’s a great sounding delay, the modulation on it is peng (trendy kid words) and it’ll do anything from lush delays, to ambient delays, to fuzzy distorted soundscapes. You really can’t go wrong with this one.